Apes Among the Tangled Branches of Human Origins

Science  29 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5965, pp. 532-534
DOI: 10.1126/science.1184703

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The detailed description of Ardipithecus ramidus (1) more than lived up to the buzz of anticipation that preceded it in the paleoanthropological community. A. ramidus is a purported hominin (the group comprising humans and their extinct relatives after they diverged from our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees) from the Middle Awash region of Ethiopia. The focus of attention has been on how A. ramidus may relate to later fossil hominins and to living apes and humans (see the first figure), but to appreciate the place of A. ramidus in human origins, we must also view it from the perspective of the hominoids (apes) that lived in the Miocene, 23 to 5 million years ago (see the second figure).